Defective seat lands truck driver huge injury payout


Seat blamed but existing back issues lead to payout discount

Defective seat lands truck driver huge injury payout
Defective trucks seats have been seen as causing debilitating back conditions

 

A truck driver has been awarded $764,000 in damages for debilitating back injuries after being made to use a work vehicle with a defective seat.

Despite previously experiencing back issues, the Brisbane Supreme Court found Daniel John Peebles, 38, suffered a 'disabling' condition while working for the now-defunct Kurtz Transport due to the latter’s failure to provide safe plant and equipment.

Judge Jackson cited Peebles’ regular journey from Rocklea to Wandoan along the Warrego Highway in a Western Star truck, with a seat that moved only a third of the way from its rear position, as culminating in a May 2014 flashpoint.

"Because of that, the plaintiff let the air out of the air suspension mechanism for the seat, to assist him to reach the clutch pedal with his left foot. That made the ride rougher."

That, combined with exaggerated body movements to reach the steering wheel and clutch, meant Peebles "[felt] every pothole or bump in the road" along Warrego Highway, which "was in shocking condition in sections".

He was eventually redeployed to a Volvo prime mover along a different route, and took time off work, with a general practitioner observing back restrictions and tenderness.

A second flashpoint came in December 2014.

While getting ready for work, as Peebles was putting his socks on he sneezed and "felt the ‘most horrendous pain’ he had ever felt in his life" across his lower back and down his left leg.

On the same day while unhooking a trailer at work, more pain caused him to be taken to hospital via ambulance.

The court heard he has been off work since then, and was diagnosed with paracentral disc protrusion in 2015 resulting in surgery to put "rods and screws in place".

The defence case did not question if the seat was defective but rather the circumstances of Peebles’ condition.


Another truck driver was awarded $500,000 in a similar case


WorkCover Queensland argued the seat "caused the plaintiff no more particular harm than a transient and short-term onset of episodic back pain" and alleged Peebles had a pre-existing symptomatic degenerative disease, citing three earlier medical episodes.

WorkCover noted between 2003 and 2011 Peebles sought treatment for pain to his back during lifting duties at different jobs.

However, the court found medical evidence "[did] not support a finding of a pre-existing degenerative disease of the plaintiff’s lumbar spine as at December 2011".

An orthopaedic surgeon accepted Peebles did have back degeneration before the May 2014 injury but was likely to have suffered a disc herniation in 2014, attributed to driving on rough terrain with a broken seat.

"The forces applied to the spine would not be sufficient to injure a normal disc, but would be sufficient to injure a disc that was already degenerated and vulnerable".

Another spinal surgeon linked the damage of the December 2014 incident to another "event" rather than "just a simple degeneration".

Jackson was critical of the defence’s use of an occupational physician who cited "epidemiological meta-analysis of relevant articles and studies" and did not examine the plaintiff or examine his CT or MRI scans.

He dismissed the evidence as "value-laden opinion that does not amount to appropriate independent expert opinion offered in a report for evidence in court".

"In my view, the better inference is that the harm to the plaintiff that in fact occurred would not have occurred absent the negligence." 

Jackson did accept the "significant prospect that had the plaintiff not suffered the particular harms at late May 2014 and December 2014, he would have suffered from a similar disabling back condition at some time after those dates".

"[The] hypothetical event that the plaintiff in any event would have suffered from a similar disabling back condition factor" resulted in a 50 per cent discount on the damages awarded:

The breakdown on the payout after factoring in the discount includes:

  • Future economic loss: $486,000.00
  • Past economic loss: $174,200.00
  • General damages: $56,510.00
  • Past special damages: $146,313.73
  • Interest on past special damages: $150.00
  • Future special damages: $50,000.00
  • Taxation instalment: $16,914.00
  • Past superannuation: $16,549.00
  • Future superannuation: $57,056.40
  • Interest on past economic loss: $6,067.39
  • Sub-total: $1,009,760.52
  • Less WorkCover refund: $245,415.40
  • Net total after refund: $764,345.12

 

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